Oral History Interview with
Reporter for various publications prior to working for the Washington bureau of Time magazine as a reporter (1941-42), and the New York Daily News, 1946-69. Chief of the Washington bureau of the New York Daily News, 1969 to the present.
Charles J. Greene
February 9, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hard copy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened March, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Charles J. Greene
February 9, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: To begin this morning Mr. Greene, would you give me a little of your personal background; where were you born, where were you educated, raised, and what are a few of the positions you've held.
GREENE: I'll do what I can. My name is Charles J. Greene, Jr., I've been writing under the name of Jerry Greene for newspapers since about 1930 . I was born in Conway, Arkansas October 6, 1910, educated in the local schools and in Hendrix College. I worked for a year after graduation in Little Rock in an advertising agency and then with the Arkansas Gazette from 1930 till '35 and I came to Washington and joined the Associated Press. After a couple of years I went to Chicago, the Chicago Daily News for three years, and then to New York with Fawcett Publications for a year and a half, and then back to Washington in the spring of 1941 with the Time Magazine as a reporter in the Washington bureau.
I went on military leave in 1942 for service in the Marine Corps and on return to inactive duty from the Marines in December 1945, I went to work for the New York Daily News, and I was made chief of the Washington bureau of the Daily News two years ago.
HESS: The position you still hold.
HESS: What are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman, sir?
GREENE: I first met Mr. Truman very casually, one time I believe, in either 1941 or the early spring of '42 when he was head of what later became known as the Truman Committee investigating military camp construction; the waste in military camp construction.
Walter Hehmeyer, who was on the staff of the Committee helped me obtain a copy of the Truman Committee's first report a couple of days before it was made public, which enabled Time Magazine to break the story, I believe either on the public release day or the day before. And Time, if memory is correct, carried two full columns on the report. And this, I believe, was the first national attention that was ever given to Harry Truman, and he picked up a head of steam with his war investigation operations very promptly after
that report came out.
HESS: Did you, or did you not, feel that Walter Hehmeyer and the staff of the Truman Committee had somewhat better understanding of the value of publicity than a few of the other committees operating on the Hill?
GREENE: I don't know that they had a better understanding than other committees, because there had been some other committees with very able press-minded people, but I had the feeling that Hehmeyer had a much keener sense of the value, publicity value, and the merit in what the Truman Committee was doing than the chairman himself did.
Truman impressed me as a man who saw a job that needed doing and he went out to do it without any regard for publicity at all. He had never had much publicity around here. And as I said, I met him only once casually and he indicated no particular interest in personal publicity at all at that time.
HESS: After that date did you ever attend any of the hearings of the Committee?
GREENE: I don't believe I did, I may have.
HESS: Do you recall anything in particular about some of the other staff members of the Truman Committee; Hugh Fulton, Charles Patrick Clark?
GREENE: I came to know Hugh Fulton quite well and continued the usual casual, professional friendship with Hugh until he came a cropper in his relations here in Washington some years later. I can't even remember how that came about.
HESS: Did you know him at the time that he was Chief Counsel for the Committee?
GREENE: Yes, I met him somewhere during this release time and I must have covered some of the Committee hearings, and followed up on this thing, because I did develop an acquaintance and a very happy professional relationship with Hugh.
HESS: Do you recall anything about Charles Patrick Clark who was on the Committee staff?
GREENE: Only that I met him.
HESS: Matthew Connelly?
GREENE: Oh, I knew Matt Connelly, not too well on the Committee, although he remembered me later when he got to the White House as having been one of the first to pay some attention to what they were doing.
HESS: What do you recall about the events of 1944 and Mr. Truman's selection as the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket?
GREENE: Nothing, because I was in the Central Pacific
in the Marine Corps at that time. However, I won an election bet with my commanding general on that election.
HESS: On the outcome of the...
GREENE: On the outcome of the...
HESS: ...November election?
HESS: Where were you when you heard of the death of President Roosevelt?
GREENE: I was back in Washington attached to Headquarters Marine Corps Division of Aviation.
HESS: What were your impressions at that time, and just what kind of a job did you think that this new man coming into office was going to do?
GREENE: That's a little difficult to answer because my attention was much more focused on the military operation than on politics. I felt a sense of shock and of tragedy that anyone would feel at the loss, sudden loss of a President. But somehow, since I was not particularly an ardent Roosevelt supporter, I didn't feel that the country would go down the drain. And I didn't know much about Truman except that he impressed me as being a pretty honest politician. And for a good many years I've labored under the impression, or
illusion, that the country was bigger than any of the politicians that were elected to run it. And I had no particular concern that the country would come apart.
HESS: During Mr. Truman's administration did you attend his weekly news conferences?
GREENE: Some of them, with no regular pattern. I was assigned to cover the White House for a time, several months, but until perhaps the last ten years or so...no, fifteen years, the Daily News did not have one man who did the White House and nothing else. And the daily coverage is pretty largely routine, and most of the people in our bureau would go to presidential press conferences as a matter of course in connection with the particular angle, or particular area they were covering. Usually there would be something coming out of a press conference which would relate either to foreign affairs, military affairs, and during that time I was concentrating on coverage of military affairs.
HESS: In general, how skillful did you think that Mr. Truman was in fielding questions at his press conferences?
GREENE: There again, you raise a difficult question, because it implies a comparison. And I never had the feeling that Truman used any skill at all in handling
his press conferences. He simply handled them like he did everything else, very directly, very bluntly. And you had the impression that when Truman got on his feet and talked to the press he was ready and willing to answer almost any question that was thrown at him. As a result, I think he was probably much more skillful than some of the Presidents we've had that attempted to manipulate the conferences; more so.
I particularly remember in those days the President presided at the annual budget seminar, a practice that's disappeared since. And I handled the annual budget for the office, I think for 25 years, 24 years. And Truman seemed to take a great deal of pleasure out of presiding at the budget seminar for the press, held in advance of the release of the submission of the budget to the Congress. And he handled his seminars as he did his press, any other type of press conferences, very crisply. And I first became impressed with Truman because of the detailed and intimate knowledge of the budget he displayed at the seminars. He always spoke with a twinkle in his voice and he was very impatient with reporters who questioned him who obviously hadn't read the message carefully. And when somebody would ask him a stupid question he would say, "It's right
there in the budget. You will find it on page so and so." And for a man who was supposed to have no particular educational background and a big business failure and that sort of thing, Truman had a very keen knowledge and grasp of the budget as a whole, and of amazingly detailed particulars within the budget. And his budget seminars were to be well remembered, I think always will be by those who attended.
HESS: Did you feel that Mr. Truman made use of the press conference in the most effective a